Whenever there is talk of the Tewaaraton Award given to college lacrosse's most outstanding player, Maryland attackman Matt Rambo's name is usually not mentioned or is way down the list.
That will change now.
The senior from Glenside, Pa., is on a historic run, having scored nine goals and racked up 10 assists in the first three games, the first Terp to total 19 points in three games since Mike Mollot in 2000.
Dating to last season, Rambo has scored 53 points (26 goals, 27 assists) in the Terps' last nine games and has scored six points in six straight games. It's one thing if Rambo was racking up big numbers against bad teams, but some of these results came in the postseason on the way to the national title game last year.
"When he arrived at Maryland, he was a give-me-the-ball-and-let-me-go-to-the-goal guy," said ESPN and Big Ten Network lacrosse analyst Mark Dixon. "Now he's more of a playmaker, he's more of a creator. I think he's a scorer first, but he's added some better passing aspects, better vision to his game. He's the real deal. That's a guy we could see in D.C. for the Tewaaraton presentation."
Rambo could become Maryland's all-time leader in goals and points before the end of the season. Bob Boneillo has the record with 231 points; Rambo has 189. Joe Walters scored a school record 153 goals; Rambo has 122.
But Rambo isn't talking about awards and records. He has only two goals this season: win the national championship and become a more complete player.
One mission has been accomplished.
"I think what's been impressive is his ability to find the open man, let the game come, pick his spots and not try to do too much," said Maryland coach John Tillman. "I think sometimes when you're a very talented player like Matt, you feel like, 'All right, the team needs me to make plays, and they're relying on me to make plays.' Really with the way we're trying to play, he'll have his opportunities. So it's making sure that everybody is engaged, making sure that everybody is on the same page."
"So for him to get the points is great because I think his teammates are looking for him, but also he's doing a really good job of looking for his teammates, and he's getting the ball back sometimes from the work that they've done," said Tillman.
Rambo has undergone a full evolution as a player. During his first two seasons, he showed he was a finisher, scoring 30 goals as a freshman and 40 as a sophomore.
Back then, he could find his spot on the field and get his shot off with those quick hands. But during the second half of last season, Rambo became more of a feeder both out on the wing and at the top when Maryland inverted him.
What has really helped him this season is that he has his two close friends, Colin Heacock and Dylan Maltz, starting on attack with him for the second straight year. They haven't let up from last year.
Heacock has six goals and five assists this season, and Maltz has eight and one.
"As an athlete, you strive to improve on everything, but I really worked on my off hand," said Rambo. "It feels good when you have your two other attackmen coming back."
"We started developing that chemistry last year both on and off the field," said Rambo. "I know where they are going to be all the time. In my freshman and sophomore years, yes, I was just a shooter because we had older kids around and that's what they needed me for. Now, it's my turn to be a leader, to be the best all-around player I can be."
Rambo isn't your prototypical attackman. You'd like them to be 6-2 or taller with long arms and legs. Rambo is 5-10 and weighs 210 pounds. He looks thick in pads, and is stronger than he looks.
He can bounce around defenders and has exceptional quickness. Regardless if he is shooting left- or right-handed, his shots are lasers and accurate. He eats up ground balls.
"I think he's very smart. I think he picks his spots," said Dixon. "He's able to judge defenses very well. When we talk about the top attackmen in the country, [Loyola Maryland sophomore] Pat Spencer is over 6 feet tall, and [junior] Ben Reeves at Yale is also a big body, a tall guy. Even [Rambo's] line mate, [senior] Colin Heacock, is bigger physically."
"But Rambo is gritty and tough," said Dixon. "There's no ground ball that he shies away from, there's no challenge that he backs away from. He's like a pit bull, but he's a smart pit bull. He doesn't put himself in bad positions, he doesn't put himself in bad situations. I think his lax IQ with this level of play has increased as his career has gone on."
That's because Rambo isn't an I-guy. The offense doesn't revolve around him, and he's just as happy about getting an assist as a goal. He is constant chatter on the field, sometimes being a quarterback when needed or a cheerleader if that is required.
There is not a lot of rah-rah from Rambo, but he has been known to deliver a few words in the huddle during games. Off the field, he can be loud but not obnoxious, and he has been known to cook some great grilled chicken, steaks and burgers.
"My family always comes first, but my teammates are like brothers to me," said Rambo.
And that closeness is what drives him. He has played in the national title game twice and lost both times. He isn't bitter, just driven.
"The great thing about Matt is Matt's not a stats guy," said Tillman. "Matt just wants to win. He wants to help the team, but he also wants to play at a high level because he's a competitive guy and he has a lot of pride."
"We have come up short twice," said Rambo. "So that means, we have to work harder and become more fundamentally sound. Only one team can win the championship and every team is out there working hard. We just have to work harder. We want to be the best that we can be."